Part 13 out of 29
new idea; philosophers in all ages have considered it, and accepted or
rejected it, according to their temperament and teachings, but it was
startling and apparently new to the Monday Evening Club. They scoffed
and jeered at it; denounced it as a manifest falsity. They did not quite
see then that there may be two sorts of selfishness--brutal and divine;
that he who sacrifices others to himself exemplifies the first, whereas
he who sacrifices himself for others personifies the second--the divine
contenting of his soul by serving the happiness of his fellow-men. Mark
Twain left this admonition in furtherance of that better sort:
"Diligently train your ideals upward, and still upward, toward a summit
where you will find your chiefest pleasure, in conduct which, while
contenting you, will be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbor and
It is a divine admonition, even if, in its suggested moral freedom, it
does seem to conflict with that other theorythe inevitable sequence of
cause and effect, descending from the primal atom. There is seeming
irrelevance in introducing this matter here; but it has a chronological
relation, and it presents a mental aspect of the time. Clemens was
forty-eight, and becoming more and more the philosopher; also, in logic
at least, a good deal of a pessimist. He made a birthday aphorism on the
"The man who is a pessimist before he is forty-eight knows too much; the
man who is an optimist after he is forty-eight knows too little."
He was never more than a pessimist in theory at any time. In practice he
would be a visionary; a builder of dreams and fortunes, a veritable
Colonel Sellers to the end of his days.
"LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI"
The Mississippi book was completed at last and placed in Osgood's hands
for publication. Clemens was immensely fond of Osgood. Osgood would
come down to Hartford and spend days discussing plans and playing
billiards, which to Mark Twain's mind was the proper way to conduct
business. Besides, there was Webster, who by this time, or a very little
later, had the word "publisher" printed in his letter-heads, and was
truly that, so far as the new book was concerned. Osgood had become
little more than its manufacturer, shipping-agent, and accountant. It
should be added that he made the book well, though somewhat expensively.
He was unaccustomed to getting out big subscription volumes. His taste
ran to the artistic, expensive product.
"That book cost me fifty thousand dollars to make," Clemens once
declared. "Bliss could have built a whole library, for that sum. But
Osgood was a lovely fellow."
Life on the Mississippi was issued about the middle of May. It was a
handsome book of its kind and a successful book, but not immediately a
profitable one, because of the manner of its issue. It was experimental,
and experiments are likely to be costly, even when successful in the
Among other things, it pronounced the final doom of kaolatype. The
artists who drew the pictures for it declined to draw them if they were
to be reproduced by that process, or indeed unless some one of the lately
discovered photographic processes was used. Furthermore, the latter were
much cheaper, and it was to the advantage of Clemens himself to repudiate
kaolatype, even for his own work.
Webster was ordered to wind up the last ends of the engraving business
with as little sacrifice as possible, and attend entirely to more
profitable affairs--viz., the distribution of books.
As literature, the Mississippi book will rank with Mark Twain's best--so
far, at least, as the first twenty chapters of it are concerned. Earlier
in this history these have been sufficiently commented upon. They
constitute a literary memorial seemingly as enduring as the river itself.
Concerning the remaining chapters of the book, they are also literature,
but of a different class. The difference is about the same as that
between 'A Tramp Abroad' and the 'Innocents'. It is the difference
between the labors of love and duty; between art and industry, literature
But the last is hardly fair. It is journalism, but it is literary
journalism, and there are unquestionably areas that are purely literary,
and not journalistic at all. There would always be those in any book of
travel he might write. The story of the river revisited is an
interesting theme; and if the revisiting had been done, let us say eight
or ten years earlier, before he had become a theoretical pessimist, and
before the river itself had become a background for pessimism, the tale
might have had more of the literary glamour and illusion, even if less
that is otherwise valuable.
'Life on the Mississippi' has been always popular in Germany. The
Emperor William of Germany once assured Mark Twain that it was his
favorite American book, and on the same evening the portier of the
author's lodging in Berlin echoed the Emperor's opinion.
Paul Lindau, a distinguished German author and critic, in an interview at
the time the Mississippi book appeared, spoke of the general delight of
his countrymen in its author. When he was asked, "But have not the
Germans been offended by Mark Twain's strictures on their customs and
language in his Tramp Abroadf" he replied, "We know what we are and how
we look, and the fanciful picture presented to our eyes gives us only
food for laughter, not cause for resentment. The jokes he made on our
long words, our inverted sentences, and the position of the verb have
really led to a reform in style which will end in making our language as
compact and crisp as the French or English. I regard Mark Twain as the
foremost humorist of the age."
Howells, traveling through Europe, found Lindau's final sentiment echoed
elsewhere, and he found something more: in Europe Mark Twain was already
highly regarded as a serious writer. Thomas Hardy said to Howells one
night at dinner:
"Why don't people understand that Mark Twain is not merely a great
humorist? He is a very remarkable fellow in a very different way."
The Rev. Dr. Parker, returning from England just then, declared that,
wherever he went among literary people, the talk was about Mark Twain;
also that on two occasions, when he had ventured diffidently to say that
he knew that author personally, he was at once so evidently regarded as
lying for effect that he felt guilty, and looked it, and did not venture
to say it any more; thus, in a manner, practising untruth to save his
reputation for veracity.
That the Mississippi book throughout did much to solidify this foreign
opinion of Mark Twain's literary importance cannot be doubted, and it is
one of his books that will live longest in the memory of men.
A GUEST OF ROYALTY
For purposes of copyright another trip to Canada was necessary, and when
the newspapers announced (May, 1883) that Mark Twain was about to cross
the border there came one morning the following telegram:
Meeting of Literary and Scientific Society at Ottawa from 22d to
26th. It would give me much pleasure if you could come and be my
guest during that time.
The Marquis of Lorne, then Governor-General of Canada, was the husband of
Queen Victoria's daughter, the Princess Louise. The invitation was
therefore in the nature of a command. Clemens obeyed it graciously
enough, and with a feeling of exaltation no doubt. He had been honored
by the noble and the great in many lands, but this was royalty--English
royalty--paying a tribute to an American writer whom neither the Marquis
nor the Princess, his wife, had ever seen. They had invited him because
they had cared enough for his books to make them wish to see him, to have
him as a guest in Rideau Hall, their home. Mark Twain was democratic.
A king to him was no more than any other man; rather less if he were not
a good king. But there was something national in this tribute; and,
besides, Lord Lorne and the Princess Louise were the kind of sovereigns
that honored their rank, instead of being honored by it.
It is a good deal like a fairy tale when you think of it; the barefooted
boy of Hannibal, who had become a printer, a pilot, a rough-handed miner,
being summoned, not so many years later, by royalty as one of America's
foremost men of letters. The honor was no greater than many others he
had received, certainly not greater than the calls of Canon Kingsley and
Robert Browning and Turgenieff at his London hotel lodgings, but it was
of a less usual kind.
Clemens enjoyed his visit. Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne kept
him with them almost continually, and were loath to let him go. Once
they took him tobogganing--an exciting experience.
It happened that during his stay with them the opening of the Canadian
Parliament took place. Lord Lorne and the principal dignitaries of state
entered one carriage, and in a carriage behind them followed Princess
Louise with Mark Twain. As they approached the Parliament House the
customary salute was fired. Clemens pretended to the Princess
considerable gratification. The temptation was too strong to resist:
"Your Highness," he said, "I have had other compliments paid to me,
but none equal to this one. I have never before had a salute fired
in my honor."
Returning to Hartford, he sent copies of his books to Lord Lorne, and to
the Princess a special copy of that absurd manual, The New Guide of the
Conversation in Portuguese and English, for which he had written an
introduction.--[A serious work, in Portugal, though issued by Osgood
('83) as a joke. Clemens in the introduction says: "Its delicious,
unconscious ridiculousness and its enchanting naivety are as supreme and
unapproachable in their way as Shakespeare's sublimities." An extract,
the closing paragraph from the book's preface, will illustrate his
"We expect then, who the little book (for the care that we wrote him, and
for her typographical correction), that maybe worth the acceptation of
the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, at which we dedicate
A SUMMER LITERARY HARVEST
Arriving at the farm in June, Clemens had a fresh crop of ideas for
stories of many lengths and varieties. His note-book of that time is
full of motifs and plots, most of them of that improbable and extravagant
kind which tended to defeat any literary purpose, whether humorous or
otherwise. It seems worth while setting down one or more of these here,
for they are characteristic of the myriad conceptions that came and went,
and beyond these written memoranda left no trace behind. Here is a fair
example of many:
Two men starving on a raft. The pauper has a Boston cracker,
resolves to keep it till the multimillionaire is beginning to
starve, then make him pay $50,000 for it. Millionaire agrees.
Pauper's cupidity rises, resolves to wait and get more; twenty-four
hours later asks him a million for the cracker. Millionaire agrees.
Pauper has a wild dream of becoming enormously rich off his cracker;
backs down; lies all night building castles in the air; next day
raises his price higher and higher, till millionaire has offered
$100,000,000, every cent he has in the world. Pauper accepts.
Millionaire: "Now give it to me."
Pauper: "No; it isn't a trade until you sign documental history of
the transaction and make an oath to pay."
While pauper is finishing the document millionaire sees a ship.
When pauper says, "Sign and take the cracker," millionaire smiles a
smile, declines, and points to the ship.
Yet this is hardly more extravagant than another idea that is mentioned
repeatedly among the notes--that of an otherwise penniless man wandering
about London with a single million-pound bank-note in his possession, a
motif which developed into a very good story indeed.
IDEA FOR "STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN"
In modern times the halls of heaven are warmed by registers
connected with hell; and this is greatly applauded by Jonathan
Edwards, Calvin, Baxter and Company, because it adds a new pang to
the sinner's sufferings to know that the very fire which tortures
him is the means of making the righteous comfortable.
Then there was to be another story, in which the various characters were
to have a weird, pestilential nomenclature; such as "Lockjaw Harris,"
"Influenza Smith," "Sinapism Davis," and a dozen or two more, a perfect
outbreak of disorders.
Another--probably the inspiration of some very hot afternoon--was to
present life in the interior of an iceberg, where a colony would live for
a generation or two, drifting about in a vast circular current year after
year, subsisting on polar bears and other Arctic game.
An idea which he followed out and completed was the 1002d Arabian Night,
in which Scheherazade continues her stories, until she finally talks the
Sultan to death. That was a humorous idea, certainly; but when Howells
came home and read it in the usual way he declared that, while the
opening was killingly funny, when he got into the story itself it seemed
to him that he was "made a fellow-sufferer with the Sultan from
"On the whole," he said, "it is not your best, nor your second best; but
all the way it skirts a certain kind of fun which you can't afford to
And that was the truth. So the tale, neatly typewritten, retired to
seclusion, and there remains to this day.
Clemens had one inspiration that summer which was not directly literary,
but historical, due to his familiarity with English dates. He wrote
Day before yesterday, feeling not in condition for writing, I left
the study, but I couldn't hold in--had to do something; so I spent
eight hours in the sun with a yardstick, measuring off the reigns of
the English kings on the roads in these grounds, from William the
Conqueror to 1883, calculating to invent an open-air game which
shall fill the children's heads with dates without study. I give
each king's reign one foot of space to the year and drive one stake
in the ground to mark the beginning of each reign, and I make the
children call the stake by the king's name. You can stand in the
door and take a bird's-eye view of English monarchy, from the
Conqueror to Edward IV.; then you can turn and follow the road up
the hill to the study and beyond with an opera-glass, and bird's-eye
view the rest of it to 1883.
You can mark the sharp difference in the length of reigns by the
varying distances of the stakes apart. You can see Richard II., two
feet; Oliver Cromwell, two feet; James II., three feet, and so on--
and then big skips; pegs standing forty-five, forty-six, fifty,
fifty-six, and sixty feet apart (Elizabeth, Victoria, Edward III.,
Henry III., and George III.). By the way, third's a lucky number
for length of days, isn't it? Yes, sir; by my scheme you get a
realizing notion of the time occupied by reigns.
The reason it took me eight hours was because, with little Jean's
interrupting assistance, I had to measure from the Conquest to the
end of Henry VI. three times over, and besides I had to whittle out
all those pegs.
I did a full day's work and a third over, yesterday, but was full of
my game after I went to bed trying to fit it for indoors. So I
didn't get to sleep till pretty late; but when I did go off I had
contrived a new way to play my history game with cards and a board.
We may be sure the idea of the game would possess him, once it got a fair
start like that. He decided to save the human race that year with a
history game. When he had got the children fairly going and interested
in playing it, he adapted it to a cribbage-board, and spent his days and
nights working it out and perfecting it to a degree where the world at
large might learn all the facts of all the histories, not only without
effort, but with an actual hunger for chronology. He would have a game
not only of the English kings, but of the kings of every other nation;
likewise of great statesmen, vice-chancellors, churchmen, of celebrities
in every line. He would prepare a book to accompany these games. Each
game would contain one thousand facts, while the book would contain eight
thousand; it would be a veritable encyclopedia. He would organize clubs
throughout the United States for playing the game; prizes were to be
given. Experts would take it up. He foresaw a department in every
newspaper devoted to the game and its problems, instead of to chess and
whist and other useless diversions. He wrote to Orion, and set him to
work gathering facts and dates by the bushel. He wrote to Webster, sent
him a plan, and ordered him to apply for the patent without delay.
Patents must also be applied for abroad. With all nations playing this
great game, very likely it would produce millions in royalties; and so,
in the true Sellers fashion, the iridescent bubble was blown larger and
larger, until finally it blew up. The game on paper had become so large,
so elaborate, so intricate, that no one could play it. Yet the first
idea was a good one: the king stakes driven along the driveway and up the
hillside of Quarry Farm. The children enjoyed it, and played it through
many sweet summer afternoons. Once, in the days when he had grown old,
he wrote, remembering:
Among the principal merits of the games which we played by help of
the pegs were these: that they had to be played in the open air, and
that they compelled brisk exercise. The peg of William the
Conqueror stood in front of the house; one could stand near the
Conqueror and have all English history skeletonized and landmarked
and mile-posted under his eye . . . . The eye has a good memory.
Many years have gone by and the pegs have disappeared, but I still
see them and each in its place; and no king's name falls upon my ear
without my seeing his pegs at once, and noticing just how many feet
of space he takes up along the road.
It turned out an important literary year after all. In the Mississippi
book he had used a chapter from the story he had been working at from
time to time for a number of years, 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'.
Reading over the manuscript now he found his interest in it sharp and
fresh, his inspiration renewed. The trip down the river had revived it.
The interest in the game became quiescent, and he set to work to finish
the story at a dead heat.
To Howells, August 22 (1883), he wrote:
I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a
brief space of time that I mustn't name the number of days; I
shouldn't believe it myself, and of course couldn't expect you to.
I used to restrict myself to four and five hours a day and five days
in the week, but this time I have wrought from breakfast till 5.15
P.M. six days in the week, and once or twice I smouched a Sunday
when the boss wasn't looking. Nothing is half so good as literature
hooked on Sunday, on the sly.
He refers to the game, though rather indifferently.
When I wrote you I thought I had it; whereas I was merely entering
upon the initiatory difficulties of it. I might have known it
wouldn't be an easy job or somebody would have invented a decent
historical game long ago--a thing which nobody has done.
Notwithstanding the fact that he was working at Huck with enthusiasm, he
seems to have been in no hurry to revise it for publication, either as a
serial or as a book. But the fact that he persevered until Huck Finn at
last found complete utterance was of itself a sufficient matter for
HOWELLS AND CLEMENS WRITE A PLAY
Before Howells went abroad Clemens had written:
Now I think that the play for you to write would be one entitled,
"Colonel Mulberry Sellers in Age" (75), with Lafayette Hawkins (at
50) still sticking to him and believing in him and calling him "My
lord." He [Sellers] is a specialist and a scientist in various
ways. Your refined people and purity of speech would make the best
possible background, and when you are done, I could take your
manuscript and rewrite the Colonel's speeches, and make him properly
extravagant, and I would let the play go to Raymond, and bind him up
with a contract that would give him the bellyache every time he read
it. Shall we think this over, or drop it as being nonsense?
Howells, returned and settled in Boston once more, had revived an
interest in the play idea. He corresponded with Clemens concerning it
and agreed that the American Claimant, Leathers, should furnish the
initial impulse of the drama.
They decided to revive Colonel Sellers and make him the heir; Colonel
Sellers in old age, more wildly extravagant than ever, with new schemes,
new patents, new methods of ameliorating the ills of mankind.
Howells came down to Hartford from Boston full of enthusiasm. He found
Clemens with some ideas of the plan jotted down: certain effects and
situations which seemed to him amusing, but there was no general scheme
of action. Howells, telling of it, says:
I felt authorized to make him observe that his scheme was as nearly
nothing as chaos could be. He agreed hilariously with me, and was
willing to let it stand in proof of his entire dramatic inability.
Howells, in turn, proposed a plan which Clemens approved, and they set to
work. Howells could imitate Clemens's literary manner, and they had a
riotously jubilant fortnight working out their humors. Howells has told
about it in his book, and he once related it to the writer of this
memoir. He said:
"Clemens took one scene and I another. We had loads and loads of fun
about it. We cracked our sides laughing over it as it went along. We
thought it mighty good, and I think to this day that it was mighty good.
We called the play 'Colonel Sellers.' We revived him. Clemens had a
notion of Sellers as a spiritual medium-there was a good deal of
excitement about spiritualism then; he also had a notion of Sellers
leading a women's temperance crusade. We conceived the idea of Sellers
wanting to try, in the presence of the audience, how a man felt who had
fallen, through drink. Sellers was to end with a sort of corkscrew
performance on the stage. He always wore a marvelous fire extinguisher,
one of his inventions, strapped on his back, so in any sudden emergency,
he could give proof of its effectiveness."
In connection with the extinguisher, Howells provided Sellers with a pair
of wings, which Sellers declared would enable him to float around in any
altitude where the flames might break out. The extinguisher, was not to
be charged with water or any sort of liquid, but with Greek fire, on the
principle that like cures like; in other words, the building was to be
inoculated with Greek fire against the ordinary conflagration. Of course
the whole thing was as absurd as possible, and, reading the old
manuscript to-day, one is impressed with the roaring humor of some of the
scenes, and with the wild extravagance of the farce motive, not wholly
warranted by the previous character of Sellers, unless, indeed, he had
gone stark mad. It is, in fact, Sellers caricatured. The gentle, tender
side of Sellers--the best side--the side which Clemens and Howells
themselves cared for most, is not there. Chapter III of Mark Twain's
novel, The American Claimant, contains a scene between Colonel Sellers
and Washington Hawkins which presents the extravagance of the Colonel's
materialization scheme. It is a modified version of one of the scenes in
the play, and is as amusing and unoffending as any.
The authors' rollicking joy in their work convinced them that they had
produced a masterpiece for which the public in general, and the actors in
particular, were waiting. Howells went back to Boston tired out, but
elate in the prospect of imminent fortune.
Meantime, while Howells had been in Hartford working at the play with
Clemens, Matthew Arnold had arrived in Boston. On inquiring for Howells,
at his home, the visitor was told that he had gone to see Mark Twain.
Arnold was perhaps the only literary Englishman left who had not accepted
Mark Twain at his larger value. He seemed surprised and said:
"Oh, but he doesn't like that sort of thing, does he?"
To which Mrs. Howells replied:
"He likes Mr. Clemens very much, and he thinks him one of the greatest
men he ever knew."
Arnold proceeded to Hartford to lecture, and one night Howells and
Clemens went to meet him at a reception. Says Howells:
While his hand laxly held mine in greeting I saw his eyes fixed
intensely on the other side of the room. "Who--who in the world is
that?" I looked and said, "Oh, that is Mark Twain." I do not
remember just how their instant encounter was contrived by Arnold's
wish; but I have the impression that they were not parted for long
during the evening, and the next night Arnold, as if still under the
glamour of that potent presence, was at Clemens's house.
He came there to dine with the Twichells and the Rev. Dr. Edwin P.
Parker. Dr. Parker and Arnold left together, and, walking quietly
homeward, discussed the remarkable creature whose presence they had just
left. Clemens had been at his best that night--at his humorous best. He
had kept a perpetual gale of laughter going, with a string of comment and
anecdote of a kind which Twichell once declared the world had never
before seen and would never see again. Arnold seemed dazed by it, unable
to come out from under its influence. He repeated some of the things
Mark Twain had said; thoughtfully, as if trying to analyze their magic.
Then he asked solemnly:
"And is he never serious?"
And Dr. Parker as solemnly answered:
"Mr. Arnold, he is the most serious man in the world." Dr. Parker,
recalling this incident, remembered also that Protap Chunder Mazoomdar, a
Hindoo Christian prelate of high rank, visited Hartford in 1883, and that
his one desire was to meet Mark Twain. In some memoranda of this visit
Dr. Parker has written:
I said that Mark Twain was a friend of mine, and we would
immediately go to his house. He was all eagerness, and I perceived
that I had risen greatly in this most refined and cultivated
gentleman's estimation. Arriving at Mr. Clemens's residence, I
promptly sought a brief private interview with my friend for his
enlightenment concerning the distinguished visitor, after which they
were introduced and spent a long while together. In due time
Mazoomdar came forth with Mark's likeness and autograph, and as we
walked away his whole air and manner seemed to say, with Simeon of
old, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!"
THE FORTUNES OF A PLAY
Howells is of the impression that the "Claimant" play had been offered to
other actors before Raymond was made aware of it; but there are letters
(to Webster) which indicate that Raymond was to see the play first,
though Clemens declares, in a letter of instruction, that he hopes
Raymond will not take it. Then he says:
Why do I offer him the play at all? For these reasons: he plays
that character well; there are not thirty actors in the country who
can do it better; and, too, he has a sort of sentimental right to be
offered the piece, though no moral, or legal, or other kind of
Therefore we do offer it to him; but only once, not twice. Let us
have no hemming and hawing; make short, sharp work of the business.
I decline to have any correspondence with R. myself in any way.
This was at the end of November, 1883, while the play was still being
revised. Negotiations with Raymond had already begun, though he does not
appear to have actually seen the play during that theatrical season, and
many and various were the attempts made to place it elsewhere; always
with one result--that each actor or manager, in the end, declared it to
be strictly a Raymond play. The thing was hanging fire for nearly a
year, altogether, while they were waiting on Raymond, who had a
profitable play, and was in no hurry for the recrudescence of Sellers.
Howells tells how he eventually took the manuscript to Raymond, whom he
found "in a mood of sweet reasonableness" at one of Osgood's luncheons.
Raymond said he could not do the play then, but was sure he would like it
for the coming season, and in any case would be glad to read it.
In due time Raymond reported favorably on the play, at least so far as
the first act was concerned, but he objected to the materialization
feature and to Sellers as claimant for the English earldom. He asked
that these features be eliminated, or at least much ameliorated; but as
these constituted the backbone and purpose of the whole play, Clemens and
Howells decided that what was left would be hardly worth while. Raymond
finally agreed to try the play as it was in one of the larger towns--
Howells thinks in Buffalo. A week later the manuscript came back to
Webster, who had general charge of the business negotiations, as indeed
he had of all Mark Twain's affairs at this time, and with it a brief
DEAR SIR,--I have just finished rereading the play, and am convinced
that in its present form it would not prove successful. I return
the manuscript by express to your address.
Thanking you for your courtesy, I am,
Yours truly, JOHN T. RAYMOND.
P.S.--If the play is altered and made longer I will be pleased to
read it again.
In his former letter Raymond had declared that "Sellers, while a very
sanguine man, was not a lunatic, and no one but a lunatic could for a
moment imagine that he had done such a work" (meaning the
materialization). Clearly Raymond wanted a more serious presentation,
something akin to his earlier success, and on the whole we can hardly
blame him. But the authors had faith in their performance as it stood,
and agreed they would make no change.
Finally a well-known elocutionist, named Burbank, conceived the notion of
impersonating Raymond as well as Sellers, making of it a sort of double
burlesque, and agreed to take the play on those terms. Burbank came to
Hartford and showed what he could do. Howells and Clemens agreed to give
him the play, and they hired the old Lyceum Theater for a week, at seven
hundred dollars, for its trial presentation. Daniel Frohman promoted it.
Clemens and Howells went over the play and made some changes, but they
were not as hilarious over it or as full of enthusiasm as they had been
in the beginning. Howells put in a night of suffering--long, dark hours
of hot and cold waves of fear--and rising next morning from a tossing
bed, wrote: "Here's a play which every manager has put out-of-doors and
which every actor known to us has refused, and now we go and give it to
an elocutioner. We are fools."
Clemens hurried over to Boston to consult with Howells, and in the end
they agreed to pay the seven hundred dollars for the theater, take the
play off and give Burbank his freedom. But Clemens's faith in it did not
immediately die. Howells relinquished all right and title in it, and
Clemens started it out with Burbank and a traveling company, doing one-
night stands, and kept it going for a week or more at his own expense.
It never reached New York.
"And yet," says Howells, "I think now that if it had come it would have
been successful. So hard does the faith of the unsuccessful dramatist
die."--[This was as late as the spring of 1886, at which time Howells's
faith in the play was exceedingly shaky. In one letter he wrote: "It is
a lunatic that we have created, and while a lunatic in one act might
amuse, I'm afraid that in three he would simply bore."
"As it stands, I believe the thing will fail, and it would be a disgrace
to have it succeed."]
CABLE AND HIS GREAT JOKE
Meanwhile, with the completion of the Sellers play Clemens had flung
himself into dramatic writing once more with a new and more violent
impetuosity than ever. Howells had hardly returned to Boston when he
Now let's write a tragedy.
The inclosed is not fancy, it is history; except that the little girl was
a passing stranger, and not kin to any of the parties. I read the
incident in Carlyle's Cromwell a year ago, and made a note in my note-
book; stumbled on the note to-day, and wrote up the closing scene of a
possible tragedy, to see how it might work.
If we made this colonel a grand fellow, and gave him a wife to suit--hey?
It's right in the big historical times--war; Cromwell in big, picturesque
power, and all that.
Come, let's do this tragedy, and do it well. Curious, but didn't
Florence want a Cromwell? But Cromwell would not be the chief figure
It was the closing scene of that pathetic passage in history from which
he would later make his story, "The Death Disc." Howells was too tired
and too occupied to undertake immediately a new dramatic labor, so
Clemens went steaming ahead alone.
My billiard-table is stacked up with books relating to the Sandwich
Islands; the walls are upholstered with scraps of paper penciled
with notes drawn from them. I have saturated myself with knowledge
of that unimaginably beautiful land and that most strange and
fascinating people. And I have begun a story. Its hidden motive
will illustrate a but-little considered fact in human nature: that
the religious folly you are born in you will die in, no matter what
apparently reasonabler religious folly may seem to have taken its
place; meanwhile abolished and obliterated it. I start Bill
Ragsdale at eleven years of age, and the heroine at four, in the
midst of the ancient idolatrous system, with its picturesque and
amazing customs and superstitions, three months before the arrival
of the missionaries and--the erection of a shallow Christianity upon
the ruins of the old paganism.
Then these two will become educated Christians and highly civilized.
And then I will jump fifteen years and do Ragsdale's leper business.
When we come to dramatize, we can draw a deal of matter from the
story, all ready to our hand.
He made elaborate preparations for the Sandwich Islands story, which he
and Howells would dramatize later, and within the space of a few weeks he
actually did dramatize 'The Prince and the Pauper' and 'Tom Sawyer', and
was prodding Webster to find proper actors or managers; stipulating at
first severe and arbitrary terms, which were gradually modified, as one
after another of the prospective customers found these dramatic wares
unsuited to their needs. Mark Twain was one of the most dramatic
creatures that ever lived, but he lacked the faculty of stage arrangement
of the dramatic idea. It is one of the commonest defects in the literary
make-up; also one of the hardest to realize and to explain.
The winter of 1883-84 was a gay one in the Clemens home. Henry Irving
was among those entertained, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Aldrich and his
wife, Howells of course, and George W. Cable. Cable had now permanently
left the South for the promised land which all authors of the South and
West seek eventually, and had in due course made his way to Hartford.
Clemens took Cable's fortunes in hand, as he had done with many another,
invited him to his home, and undertook to open negotiations with the
American Publishing Company, of which Frank Bliss was now the manager,
for the improvement of his fortunes.
Cable had been giving readings from his stories and had somewhere picked
up the measles. He suddenly came down with the complaint during his
visit to Clemens, and his case was a violent one. It required the
constant attendance of a trained nurse and one or two members of the
household to pull him through.
In the course of time he was convalescent, and when contagion was no
longer to be feared guests were invited in for his entertainment. At one
of these gatherings, Cable produced a curious book, which he said had
been lent to him by Prof. Francis Bacon, of New Haven, as a great rarity.
It was a little privately printed pamphlet written by a Southern youth,
named S. Watson Wolston, a Yale student of 1845, and was an absurd
romance of the hyperflorid, grandiloquent sort, entitled, "Love
Triumphant, or the Enemy Conquered." Its heroine's name was Ambulinia,
and its flowery, half-meaningless periods and impossible situations
delighted Clemens beyond measure. He begged Cable to lend it to him, to
read at the Saturday Morning Club, declaring that he certainly must own
the book, at whatever cost. Henry C. Robinson, who was present,
remembered having seen a copy in his youth, and Twichell thought he
recalled such a book on sale in New Haven during his college days.
Twichell said nothing as to any purpose in the matter; but somewhat
later, being in New Haven, he stepped into the old book-store and found
the same proprietor, who remembered very well the book and its author.
Twichell rather fearfully asked if by any chance a copy of it might still
"Well," was the answer, "I undertook to put my cellar in order the other
day, and found about a cord of them down there. I think I can supply
Twichell took home six of the books at ten cents each, and on their first
spring walk to Talcott's Tower casually mentioned to Clemens the quest
for the rare Ambulinia. But Clemens had given up the pursuit. New York
dealers had reported no success in the matter. The book was no longer in
"What would you give for a copy?" asked. Twichell.
Clemens became excited.
"It isn't a question of price," he said; "that would be for the owner to
set if I could find him."
Twichell drew a little package from his pocket.
"Well, Mark," he said, "here are six copies of that book, to begin with.
If that isn't enough, I can get you a wagon-load."
It was enough. But it did not deter Clemens in his purpose, which was to
immortalize the little book by pointing out its peculiar charms. He did
this later, and eventually included the entire story, with comments, in
one of his own volumes.
Clemens and Twichell did not always walk that spring. The early form of
bicycle, the prehistoric high-wheel, had come into vogue, and they each
got one and attempted its conquest. They practised in the early morning
hours on Farmington Avenue, which was wide and smooth, and they had an
instructor, a young German, who, after a morning or two, regarded Mark
Twain helplessly and said:
"Mr. Clemens, it's remarkable--you can fall off of a bicycle more
different ways than the man that invented it."
They were curious things, those old high-wheel machines. You were
perched away up in the air, with the feeling that you were likely at any
moment to strike a pebble or something that would fling you forward with
damaging results. Frequently that is what happened. The word "header"
seems to have grown out of that early bicycling period. Perhaps Mark
Twain invented it. He had enough experience to do it. He always
declared afterward that he invented all the new bicycle profanity that
has since come into general use. Once he wrote:
There was a row of low stepping-stones across one end of the street,
a measured yard apart. Even after I got so I could steer pretty
fairly I was so afraid of those stones that I always hit them. They
gave me the worst falls I ever got in that street, except those
which I got from dogs. I have seen it stated that no expert is
quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always able to skip
out of his way. I think that that may be true; but I think that the
reason he couldn't run over the dog was because he was trying to. I
did not try to run over any dog. But I ran over every dog that came
along. I think it makes a great deal of difference. If you try to
run over the dog he knows how to calculate, but if you are trying to
miss him he does not know how to calculate, and is liable to jump
the wrong way every time. It was always so in my experience. Even
when I could not hit a wagon I could hit a dog that came to see me
practise. They all liked to see me practise, and they all came, for
there was very little going on in our neighborhood to entertain a
He conquered, measurably, that old, discouraging thing, and he and
Twichell would go on excursions, sometimes as far as Wethersfield or to
the tower. It was a pleasant change, at least it was an interesting one;
but bicycling on the high wheel was never a popular diversion with Mark
Twain, and his enthusiasm in the sport had died before the "safety" came
He had his machine sent out to Elmira, but there were too many hills in
Chemung County, and after one brief excursion he came in, limping and
pushing his wheel, and did not try it again.
To return to Cable. When the 1st of April (1884) approached he concluded
it would be a good time to pay off his debt of gratitude for his recent
entertainment in the Clemens's home. He went to work at it
systematically. He had a "private and confidential" circular letter
printed, and he mailed it to one hundred and fifty of Mark Twain's
literary friends in Boston, Hartford, Springfield, New York, Brooklyn,
Washington, and elsewhere, suggesting that they write to him, so that
their letters would reach him simultaneously April 1st, asking for his
autograph. No stamps or cards were to be inclosed for reply, and it was
requested that "no stranger to Mr. Clemens and no minor" should take
part. Mrs. Clemens was let into the secret, so that she would see to it
that her husband did not reject his mail or commit it to the flames
It would seem that every one receiving the invitation must have responded
to it, for on the morning of April 1st a stupefying mass of letters was
unloaded on Mark Twain's table. He did not know what to make of it, and
Mrs. Clemens stood off to watch the results. The first one he opened was
from Dean Sage, a friend whom he valued highly. Sage wrote from
DEAR CLEMENS,--I have recently been asked by a young lady who
unfortunately has a mania for autograph-collecting, but otherwise is
a charming character, and comely enough to suit your fastidious
taste, to secure for her the sign manual of the few distinguished
persons fortunate enough to have my acquaintance. In enumerating
them to her, after mentioning the names of Geo. Shepard Page, Joe
Michell, Capt. Isaiah Ryndus, Mr. Willard, Dan Mace, and J. L.
Sullivan, I came to yours. "Oh!" said she, "I have read all his
works--Little Breeches, The Heathen Chinee, and the rest--and think
them delightful. Do oblige me by asking him for his autograph,
preceded by any little sentiment that may occur to him, provided it
is not too short."
Of course I promised, and hope you will oblige me by sending some
little thing addressed to Miss Oakes.
We are all pretty well at home just now, though indisposition has
been among us for the past fortnight. With regards to Mrs. Clemens
and the children, in which my wife joins,
Yours truly, DEAN SAGE.
It amused and rather surprised him, and it fooled him completely; but
when he picked up a letter from Brander Matthews, asking, in some absurd
fashion, for his signature, and another from Ellen Terry, and from
Irving, and from Stedman, and from Warner, and Waring, and H. C. Bunner,
and Sarony, and Laurence Hutton, and John Hay, and R. U. Johnson, and
Modjeska, the size and quality of the joke began to overawe him. He was
delighted, of course; for really it was a fine compliment, in its way,
and most of the letters were distinctly amusing. Some of them asked for
autographs by the yard, some by the pound. Henry Irving said:
I have just got back from a very late rehearsal-five o'clock--very
tired--but there will be no rest till I get your autograph.
Some requested him to sit down and copy a few chapters from The Innocents
Abroad for them or to send an original manuscript. Others requested that
his autograph be attached to a check of interesting size. John Hay
suggested that he copy a hymn, a few hundred lines of Young's "Night
Thoughts," and an equal amount of Pollak's "Course of Time."
I want my boy to form a taste for serious and elevated poetry, and
it will add considerable commercial value to have them in your
Altogether the reading of the letters gave him a delightful day, and his
admiration for Cable grew accordingly. Cable, too, was pleased with the
success of his joke, though he declared he would never risk such a thing
again. A newspaper of the time reports him as saying:
I never suffered so much agony as for a few days previous to the 1st
of April. I was afraid the letters would reach Mark when he was in
affliction, in which case all of us would never have ceased flying
to make it up to him.
When I visited Mark we used to open our budgets of letters together
at breakfast. We used to sing out whenever we struck an autograph-
hunter. I think the idea came from that. The first person I spoke
to about it was Robert Underwood Johnson, of the Century. My most
enthusiastic ally was the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. We never thought
it would get into the papers. I never played a practical joke
before. I never will again, certainly.
Mark Twain in those days did not encourage the regular autograph-
collectors, and seldom paid any attention to their requests for his
signature. He changed all this in later years, and kept a supply always
on hand to satisfy every request; but in those earlier days he had no
patience with collecting fads, and it required a particularly pleasing
application to obtain his signature.
MARK TWAIN IN BUSINESS
Samuel Clemens by this time was definitely engaged in the publishing
business. Webster had a complete office with assistants at 658 Broadway,
and had acquired a pretty thorough and practical knowledge of
subscription publishing. He was a busy, industrious young man,
tirelessly energetic, and with a good deal of confidence, by no means
unnecessary to commercial success. He placed this mental and physical
capital against Mark Twain's inspiration and financial backing, and the
combination of Charles L. Webster & Co. seemed likely to be a strong
Already, in the spring of 1884., Webster had the new Mark Twain book,
'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', well in hand, and was on the watch
for promising subscription books by other authors. Clemens, with his
usual business vision and eye for results, with a generous disregard of
detail, was supervising the larger preliminaries, and fulminating at the
petty distractions and difficulties as they came along. Certain plays he
was trying to place were enough to keep him pretty thoroughly upset
during this period, and proof-reading never added to his happiness. To
Howells he wrote:
My days are given up to cursings, both loud and deep, for I am
reading the 'Huck Finn' proofs. They don't make a very great many
mistakes, but those that do occur are of a nature that make a man
swear his teeth loose.
Whereupon Howells promptly wrote him that he would help him out with the
Huck Finn proofs for the pleasure of reading the story. Clemens, among
other things, was trying to place a patent grape-scissors, invented by
Howells's father, so that there was, in some degree, an equivalent for
the heavy obligation. That it was a heavy one we gather from his fervent
It took my breath away, and I haven't recovered it yet, entirely--I
mean the generosity of your proposal to read the proofs of Huck
Now, if you mean it, old man--if you are in earnest-proceed, in
God's name, and be by me forever blessed. I can't conceive of a
rational man deliberately piling such an atrocious job upon himself.
But if there be such a man, and you be that man, pile it on. The
proof-reading of 'The Prince and the Pauper' cost me the last rags
of my religion.
Clemens decided to have the Huckleberry Finn book illustrated after his
own ideas. He looked through the various comic papers to see if he could
find the work of some new man that appealed to his fancy. In the pages
of Life he discovered some comic pictures illustrating the possibility of
applying electrical burners to messenger boys, waiters, etc. The style
and the spirit of these things amused him. He instructed Webster to look
up the artist, who proved to be a young man, E. W. Kemble by name, later
one of our foremost cartoonists. Webster engaged Kemble and put the
manuscript in his hands. Through the publication of certain chapters of
Huck Finn in the Century Magazine, Kemble was brought to the notice of
its editors, who wrote Clemens that they were profoundly indebted to him
for unearthing "such a gem of an illustrator."
Clemens, encouraged and full of enthusiasm, now endeavored to interest
himself in the practical details of manufacture, but his stock of
patience was light and the details were many. His early business period
resembles, in some of its features, his mining experience in Esmeralda,
his letters to Webster being not unlike those to Orion in that former
day. They are much oftener gentle, considerate, even apologetic, but
they are occasionally terse, arbitrary, and profane. It required effort
for him to be entirely calm in his business correspondence. A criticism
of one of Webster's assistants will serve as an example of his less quiet
Charley, your proof-reader, is an idiot; and not only an idiot, but
blind; and not only blind, but partly dead.
Of course, one must regard many of Mark Twain's business aspects
humorously. To consider them otherwise is to place him in a false light
altogether. He wore himself out with his anxieties and irritations; but
that even he, in the midst of his furies, saw the humor of it all is
sufficiently evidenced by the form of his savage phrasing. There were
few things that did not amuse him, and certainly nothing amused more, or
oftener, than himself.
It is proper to add a detail in evidence of a business soundness which he
sometimes manifested. He had observed the methods of Bliss and Osgood,
and had drawn his conclusions. In the beginning of the Huck Finn canvass
he wrote Webster:
Keep it diligently in mind that we don't issue till we have made a
Get at your canvassing early and drive it with all your might, with
an intent and purpose of issuing on the 1oth or 15th of next
December (the best time in the year to tumble a big pile into the
trade); but if we haven't 40,000 subscriptions we simply postpone
publication till we've got them. It is a plain, simple policy, and
would have saved both of my last books if it had been followed.
[That is to say, 'The Prince and the Pauper' and the Mississippi
book, neither of which had sold up to his expectations on the,
Gerhardt returned from Paris that summer, after three years of study, a
qualified sculptor. He was prepared to take commissions, and came to
Elmira to model a bust of his benefactor. The work was finished after
four or five weeks of hard effort and pronounced admirable; but Gerhardt,
attempting to make a cast one morning, ruined it completely. The family
gathered round the disaster, which to them seemed final, but the sculptor
went immediately to work, and in an amazingly brief time executed a new
bust even better than the first, an excellent piece of modeling and a
fine likeness. It was decided that a cut of it should be used as a
frontispiece for the new book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Clemens was at this time giving the final readings to the Huck Finn
pages, a labor in which Mrs. Clemens and the children materially
assisted. In the childish biography which Susy began of her father, a
year later, she says:
Ever since papa and mama were married papa has written his books and
then taken them to mama in manuscript, and she has expurgated--
[Susy's spelling is preserved]--them. Papa read Huckleberry Finn to
us in manuscript,--[Probably meaning proof.]--just before it came
out, and then he would leave parts of it with mama to expurgate,
while he went off to the study to work, and sometimes Clara and I
would be sitting with mama while she was looking the manuscript
over, and I remember so well, with what pangs of regret we used to
see her turn down the leaves of the pages, which meant that some
delightfully terrible part must be scratched out. And I remember
one part pertickularly which was perfectly fascinating it was so
terrible, that Clara and I used to delight in and oh, with what
despair we saw mama turn down the leaf on which it was written, we
thought the book would almost be ruined without it. But we
gradually came to think as mama did.
Commenting on this phase of Huck's evolution Mark Twain has since
I remember the special case mentioned by Susy, and can see the group
yet--two-thirds of it pleading for the life of the culprit sentence
that was so fascinatingly dreadful, and the other third of it
patiently explaining why the court could not grant the prayer of the
pleaders; but I do not remember what the condemned phrase was. It
had much company, and they all went to the gallows; but it is
possible that that especially dreadful one which gave those little
people so much delight was cunningly devised and put into the book
for just that function, and not with any hope or expectation that it
would get by the "expergator" alive. It is possible, for I had that
Little Jean was probably too youthful yet to take part in that literary
arbitration. She was four, and had more interest in cows. In some
memoranda which her father kept of that period--the "Children's Book"--he
She goes out to the barn with one of us every evening toward six
o'clock, to look at the cows--which she adores--no weaker word can
express her feeling for them. She sits rapt and contented while
David milks the three, making a remark now and then--always about
the cows. The time passes slowly and drearily for her attendant,
but not for her. She could stand a week of it. When the milking is
finished, and "Blanche," "Jean," and "the cross cow" are turned into
the adjoining little cow-lot, we have to set Jean on a shed in that
lot, and stay by her half an hour, till Eliza, the German nurse,
comes to take her to bed. The cows merely stand there, and do
nothing; yet the mere sight of them is all-sufficient for Jean. She
requires nothing more. The other evening, after contemplating them
a long time, as they stood in the muddy muck chewing the cud, she
said, with deep and reverent appreciation, "Ain't this a sweet
Yesterday evening our cows (after being inspected and worshiped by
Jean from the shed for an hour) wandered off down into the pasture
and left her bereft. I thought I was going to get back home, now,
but that was an error. Jean knew of some more cows in a field
somewhere, and took my hand and led me thitherward. When we turned
the corner and took the right-hand road, I saw that we should
presently be out of range of call and sight; so I began to argue
against continuing the expedition, and Jean began to argue in favor
of it, she using English for light skirmishing and German for
"business." I kept up my end with vigor, and demolished her
arguments in detail, one after the other, till I judged I had her
about cornered. She hesitated a moment, then answered up, sharply:
"Wir werden nichts mehr daruber sprechen!" (We won't talk any more
It nearly took my breath away, though I thought I might possibly
have misunderstood. I said:
"Why, you little rascal! Was hast du gesagt?"
But she said the same words over again, and in the same decided way.
I suppose I ought to have been outraged, but I wasn't; I was
His own note-books of that summer are as full as usual, but there are
fewer literary ideas and more philosophies. There was an excitement,
just then, about the trichina germ in pork, and one of his memoranda
I think we are only the microscopic trichina concealed in the blood
of some vast creature's veins, and that it is that vast creature
whom God concerns himself about and not us.
And there is another which says:
People, in trying to justify eternity, say we can put it in by
learning all the knowledge acquired by the inhabitants of the
myriads of stars. We sha'n't need that. We could use up two
eternities in learning all that is to be learned about our own
world, and the thousands of nations that have risen, and flourished,
and vanished from it. Mathematics alone would occupy me eight
He records an incident which he related more fully in a letter to
Before I forget it I must tell you that Mrs. Clemens has said a
bright thing. A drop-letter came to me asking me to lecture here
for a church debt. I began to rage over the exceedingly cool
wording of the request, when Mrs. Clemens said: "I think I know that
church, and, if so, this preacher is a colored man; he doesn't know
how to write a polished letter. How should he?"
My manner changed so suddenly and so radically that Mrs. C. said: "I
will give you a motto, and it will be useful to you if you will
adopt it: 'Consider every man colored till he is proved white.'"
It is dern good, I think.
One of the note-books contains these entries:
Talking last night about home matters, I said, "I wish I had said to
George when we were leaving home, 'Now, George, I wish you would
take advantage of these three or four months' idle time while I am
"To learn to let my matches alone," interrupted Livy. The very
words I was going to use. Yet George had not been mentioned before,
nor his peculiarities.
Several years ago I said:
"Suppose I should live to be ninety-two, and just as I was dying a
messenger should enter and say----"
"You are become Earl of Durham," interrupted Livy. The very words I
was going to utter. Yet there had not been a word said about the
earl, or any other person, nor had there been any conversation
calculated to suggest any such subject.
MARK TWAIN MUGWUMPS
The Republican Presidential nomination of James G. Blaine resulted in a
political revolt such as the nation had not known. Blaine was immensely
popular, but he had many enemies in his own party. There were strong
suspicions of his being connected with doubtful financiering-enterprises,
more or less sensitive to official influence, and while these scandals
had become quieted a very large portion of the Republican constituency
refused to believe them unjustified. What might be termed the
intellectual element of Republicanism was against Blame: George William
Curtis, Charles Dudley Warner, James Russell Lowell, Henry Ward Beecher,
Thomas Nast, the firm of Harper & Brothers, Joseph W. Hawley, Joseph
Twichell, Mark Twain--in fact the majority of thinking men who held
principle above party in their choice.
On the day of the Chicago nomination, Henry C. Robinson, Charles E.
Perkins, Edward M. Bunce, F. G. Whitmore, and Samuel C. Dunham were
collected with Mark Twain in his billiard-room, taking turns at the game
and discussing the political situation, with George, the colored butler,
at the telephone down-stairs to report the returns as they came in. As
fast as the ballot was received at the political headquarters down-town,
it was telephoned up to the house and George reported it through the
The opposition to Blaine in the convention was so strong that no one of
the assembled players seriously expected his nomination. What was their
amazement, then, when about mid-afternoon George suddenly announced
through the speaking-tube that Blaine was the nominee. The butts of the
billiard cues came down on the floor with a bump, and for a moment the
players were speechless. Then Henry Robinson said:
"It's hard luck to have to vote for that man."
Clemens looked at him under his heavy brows.
"But--we don't--have to vote for him," he said.
"Do you mean to say that you're not going to vote for him?"
"Yes, that is what I mean to say. I am not going to vote for him."
There was a general protest. Most of those assembled declared that when
a party's representatives chose a man one must stand by him. They might
choose unwisely, but the party support must be maintained. Clemens said:
"No party holds the privilege of dictating to me how I shall vote. If
loyalty to party is a form of patriotism, I am no patriot. If there is
any valuable difference between a monarchist and an American, it lies in
the theory that the American can decide for himself what is patriotic and
what isn't. I claim that difference. I am the only person in the sixty
millions that is privileged to dictate my patriotism."
There was a good deal of talk back and forth, and, in the end, most of
those there present remained loyal to Blaine. General Hawley and his
paper stood by Blaine. Warner withdrew from his editorship of the
Courant and remained neutral. Twichell stood with Clemens and came near
losing his pulpit by it. Open letters were published in the newspapers
about him. It was a campaign when politics divided neighbors, families,
and congregations. If we except the Civil War period, there never had
been a more rancorous political warfare than that waged between the
parties of James G. Blaine and Grover Cleveland in 1884.
That Howells remained true to Blaine was a grief to Clemens. He had gone
to the farm with Howells on his political conscience and had written
fervent and imploring letters on the subject. As late as September 17th,
Somehow I can't seem to rest quiet under the idea of your voting for
Blaine. I believe you said something about the country and the
party. Certainly allegiance to these is well, but certainly a man's
first duty is to his own conscience and honor; the party and country
come second to that, and never first. I don't ask you to vote at
all. I only urge you not to soil yourself by voting for Blaine....
Don't be offended; I mean no offense. I am not concerned about the
rest of the nation, but well, good-by.
Yours ever, MARK.
Beyond his prayerful letters to Howells, Clemens did not greatly concern
himself with politics on the farm, but, returning to Hartford, he went
vigorously into the campaign, presided, as usual, at mass-meetings, and
made political speeches which invited the laughter of both parties, and
were universally quoted and printed without regard to the paper's
It was during one such speech as this that, in the course of his remarks,
a band outside came marching by playing patriotic music so loudly as to
drown his voice. He waited till the band got by, but by the time he was
well under way again another band passed, and once more he was obliged to
wait till the music died away in the distance. Then he said, quite
"You will find my speech, without the music, in the morning paper."
In introducing Carl Schurz at a great mugwump mass-meeting at Hartford,
October 20, 1884., he remarked that he [Clemens] was the only
legitimately elected officer, and was expected to read a long list of
vice-presidents; but he had forgotten all about it, and he would ask all
the gentlemen there, of whatever political complexion, to do him a great
favor by acting as vice-presidents. Then he said:
As far as my own political change of heart is concerned, I have not
been convinced by any Democratic means. The opinion I hold of Mr.
Blaine is due to the comments of the Republican press before the
nomination. Not that they have said bitter or scandalous things,
because Republican papers are above that, but the things they said
did not seem to be complimentary, and seemed to me to imply
editorial disapproval of Mr. Blame and the belief that he was not
qualified to be President of the United States.
It is just a little indelicate for me to be here on this occasion
before an assemblage of voters, for the reason that the ablest
newspaper in Colorado--the ablest newspaper in the world--has
recently nominated me for President. It is hardly fit for me to
preside at a discussion of the brother candidate, but the best among
us will do the most repulsive things the moment we are smitten with
a Presidential madness. If I had realized that this canvass was to
turn on the candidate's private character I would have started that
Colorado paper sooner. I know the crimes that can be imputed and
proved against me can be told on the fingers of your hands. This
cannot be said of any other Presidential candidate in the field.
Inasmuch as the Blaine-Cleveland campaign was essentially a campaign of
scurrility, this touch was loudly applauded.
Mark Twain voted for Grover Cleveland, though up to the very eve of
election he was ready to support a Republican nominee in whom he had
faith, preferably Edmunds, and he tried to inaugurate a movement by which
Edmunds might be nominated as a surprise candidate and sweep the country.
It was probably Dr. Burchard's ill-advised utterance concerning the three
alleged R's of Democracy, "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion," that defeated
Blaine, and by some strange, occult means Mark Twain's butler George got
wind of this damning speech before it became news on the streets of
Hartford. George had gone with his party, and had a considerable sum of
money wagered on Blaine's election; but he knew it was likely to be very
close, and he had an instant and deep conviction that these three fatal
words and Blaine's failure to repudiate them meant the candidate's
downfall. He immediately abandoned everything in the shape of household
duties, and within the briefest possible time had changed enough money to
make him safe, and leave him a good margin of winnings besides, in the
event of Blame's defeat. This was evening. A very little later the news
of Blaine's blunder, announced from the opera-house stage, was like the
explosion of a bomb. But it was no news to George, who went home
rejoicing with his enemies.
PLATFORMING WITH CABLE
The drain of many investments and the establishment of a publishing house
had told heavily on Clemens's finances. It became desirable to earn a
large sum of money with as much expedition as possible. Authors'
readings had become popular, and Clemens had read in Philadelphia and
Boston with satisfactory results. He now conceived the idea of a grand
tour of authors as a commercial enterprise. He proposed to Aldrich,
Howells, and Cable that he charter a private car for the purpose, and
that with their own housekeeping arrangements, cooking, etc., they could
go swinging around the circuit, reaping, a golden harvest. He offered to
be general manager of the expedition, the impresario as it were, and
agreed to guarantee the others not less than seventy-five dollars a day
apiece as their net return from the "circus," as he called it.
Howells and Aldrich liked well enough to consider it as an amusing
prospect, but only Cable was willing to realize it. He had been scouring
the country on his own account, and he was willing enough to join forces
with Mark Twain.
Clemens detested platforming, but the idea of reading from his books or
manuscript for some reason seemed less objectionable, and, as already
stated, the need of much money had become important.
He arranged with J. B. Pond for the business side of the expedition,
though in reality he was its proprietor. The private-car idea was given
up, but he employed Cable at a salary of four hundred and fifty dollars a
week and expenses, and he paid Pond a commission. Perhaps, without going
any further, we may say that the tour was a financial success, and
yielded a large return of the needed funds.
Clemens and Cable had a pleasant enough time, and had it not been for the
absence from home and the disagreeableness of railway travel, there would
have been little to regret. They were a curiously associated pair.
Cable was orthodox in his religion, devoted to Sunday-school, Bible
reading, and church affairs in general. Clemens--well, Clemens was
different. On the first evening of their tour, when the latter was
comfortably settled in bed with an entertaining book, Cable appeared with
his Bible, and proceeded to read a chapter aloud. Clemens made no
comment, and this went on for an evening or two more. Then he said:
"See here, Cable, we'll have to cut this part of the program out. You
can read the Bible as much as you please so long as you don't read it to
Cable retired courteously. He had a keen sense of humor, and most things
that Mark Twain did, whether he approved or not, amused him. Cable did
not smoke, but he seemed always to prefer the smoking compartment when
they traveled, to the more respectable portions of the car. One day
Clemens sand to him:
"Cable, why do you sit in here? You don't smoke, and you know I always
smoke, and sometimes swear."
Cable said, "I know, Mark, I don't do these things, but I can't help
admiring the way you do them."
When Sunday came it was Mark Twain's great happiness to stay in bed all
day, resting after his week of labor; but Cable would rise, bright and
chipper, dress himself in neat and suitable attire, and visit the various
churches and Sunday-schools in town, usually making a brief address at
each, being always invited to do so.
It seems worth while to include one of the Clemens-Cable programs here--
a most satisfactory one. They varied it on occasion, and when they were
two nights in a place changed it completely, but the program here given
was the one they were likely to use after they had proved its worth:
Richling's visit to Kate Riley
GEO. W. CABLE
(a) Kate Riley and Ristofolo
(b) Narcisse in mourning for "Lady Byron"
(c) Mary's Night Ride
GEO. W. CABLE
(a) Tragic Tale of the Fishwife
(b) A Trying Situation
(c) A Ghost Story
At a Mark Twain memorial meeting (November 30, 1910), where the few who
were left of his old companions told over quaint and tender memories,
George Cable recalled their reading days together and told of Mark
Twain's conscientious effort to do his best, to be worthy of himself,
regardless of all other concerns. He told how when they had been
traveling for a while Clemens seemed to realize that he was only giving
the audience nonsense; making them laugh at trivialities which they would
forget before they had left the entertainment hall. Cable said that up
to that time he had supposed Clemens's chief thought was the
entertainment of the moment, and that if the audience laughed he was
satisfied. He told how he had sat in the wings, waiting his turn, and
heard the tides of laughter gather and roll forward and break against the
footlights, time and time again, and how he had believed his colleague to
be glorying in that triumph. What was his surprise, then, on the way to
the hotel in the carriage, when Clemens groaned and seemed writhing in
spirit and said:
"Oh, Cable, I am demeaning myself. I am allowing myself to be a mere
buffoon. It's ghastly. I can't endure it any longer."
Cable added that all that night and the next day Mark Twain devoted
himself to the study and rehearsal of selections which were justified not
only as humor, but as literature and art.
A good many interesting and amusing things would happen on such a tour.
Many of these are entirely forgotten, of course, but of others certain
memoranda have been preserved. Grover Cleveland had been elected when
they set out on their travels, but was still holding his position in
Albany as Governor of New York. When they reached Albany Cable and
Clemens decided to call on him. They drove to the Capitol and were shown
into the Governor's private office. Cleveland made them welcome, and,
after greetings, said to Clemens:
"Mr. Clemens, I was a fellow-citizen of yours in Buffalo a good many
months some years ago, but you never called on me then. How do you
Clemens said: "Oh, that is very simple to answer, your Excellency. In
Buffalo you were a sheriff. I kept away from the sheriff as much as
possible, but you're Governor now, and on the way to the Presidency.
It's worth while coming to see you."
Clemens meantime had been resting, half sitting, on the corner of the
Executive desk. He leaned back a little, and suddenly about a dozen
young men opened various doors, filed in and stood at attention, as if
waiting for orders.
No one spoke for a moment; then the Governor said to this collection of
"You are dismissed, young gentlemen. Your services are not required.
Mr. Clemens is sitting on the bells."
In Buffalo, when Clemens appeared on the stage, he leisurely considered
the audience for a moment; then he said:
"I miss a good many faces. They have gone--gone to the tomb, to the
gallows, or to the White House. All of us are entitled to at least one
of these distinctions, and it behooves us to be wise and prepare for
On Thanksgiving Eve the readers were in Morristown, New Jersey, where
they were entertained by Thomas Nast. The cartoonist prepared a quiet
supper for them and they remained overnight in the Nast home. They were
to leave next morning by an early train, and Mrs. Nast had agreed to see
that they were up in due season. When she woke next morning there seemed
a strange silence in the house and she grew suspicious. Going to the
servants' room, she found them sleeping soundly. The alarm-clock in the
back hall had stopped at about the hour the guests retired. The studio
clock was also found stopped; in fact, every timepiece on the premises
had retired from business. Clemens had found that the clocks interfered
with his getting to sleep, and he had quieted them regardless of early
trains and reading engagements. On being accused of duplicity he said:
"Well, those clocks were all overworked, anyway. They will feel much
better for a night's rest."
A few days later Nast sent him a caricature drawing--a picture which
showed Mark Twain getting rid of the offending clocks.
At Christmas-time they took a fortnight's holiday and Clemens went home
to Hartford. A surprise was awaiting him there. Mrs. Clemens had made
an adaptation of 'The Prince and the Pauper' play, and the children of
the neighborhood had prepared a presentation of it for his special
delectation. He knew, on his arrival home, that something mysterious was
in progress, for certain rooms were forbidden him; but he had no inkling
of their plan until just before the performance--when he was led across
the grounds to George Warner's home, into the large room there where it
was to be given, and placed in a seat directly in front of the stage.
Gerhardt had painted the drop-curtain, and assisted in the general
construction of scenery and effects. The result was really imposing; but
presently, when the curtain rose and the guest of honor realized what it
was all about, and what they had undertaken for his pleasure, he was
deeply moved and supremely gratified.
There was but one hitch in the performance. There is a place where the
Prince says, "Fathers be alike, mayhap; mine hath not a doll's temper."
This was Susy's part, and as she said it the audience did not fail to
remember its literal appropriateness. There was a moment's silence, then
a titter, followed by a roar of laughter, in which everybody but the
little actors joined. They did not see the humor and were disturbed and
grieved. Curiously enough, Mrs Clemens herself, in arranging and casting
the play, had not considered the possibility of this effect. The parts
were all daintily played. The children wore their assumed personalities
as if native to them. Daisy Warner played the part of Tom Canty, Clara
Clemens was Lady Jane Grey.
It was only the beginning of The Prince and the Pauper productions. The
play was repeated, Clemens assisting, adding to the parts, and himself
playing the role of Miles Hendon. In her childish biography Susy says:
Papa had only three days to learn the part in, but still we were all
sure that he could do it. The scene that he acted in was the scene
between Miles Hendon and the Prince, the "Prithee, pour the water"
scene. I was the Prince and papa and I rehearsed together two or
three times a day for the three days before the appointed evening.
Papa acted his part beautifully, and he added to the scene, making
it a good deal longer. He was inexpressibly funny, with his great
slouch hat and gait----oh such a gait! Papa made the Miles Hendon
scene a splendid success and every one was delighted with the scene,
and papa too. We had great fun with our "Prince and Pauper," and I
think we none of us shall forget how immensely funny papa was in it.
He certainly could have been an actor as well as an author.
The holidays over, Cable and Clemens were off on the circuit again. At
Rochester an incident happened which led to the writing of one of Mark
Twain's important books, 'A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court'.
Clemens and Cable had wandered into a book-store for the purpose of
finding something to read. Pulling over some volumes on one of the
tables, Clemens happened to pick up a little green, cloth-bound book, and
after looking at the title turned the pages rather curiously and with
"Cable," he said, "do you know anything about this book, the Arthurian
legends of Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Arthure?"
Cable answered: "Mark, that is one of the most beautiful books in the
world. Let me buy it for you. You will love it more than any book you
So Clemens came to know the old chronicler's version of the rare Round
Table legends, and from that first acquaintance with them to the last
days of his life seldom let the book go far from him. He read and reread
those quaint, stately tales and reverenced their beauty, while fairly
reveling in the absurdities of that ancient day. Sir Ector's lament he
regarded as one of the most simply beautiful pieces of writing in the
English tongue, and some of the combats and quests as the most ridiculous
absurdities in romance. Presently he conceived the idea of linking that
day, with its customs, costumes, and abuses, with the progress of the
present, or carrying back into that age of magicians and armor and
superstition and cruelties a brisk American of progressive ideas who
would institute reforms. His note-book began to be filled with memoranda
of situations and possibilities for the tale he had in mind. These were
vague, unformed fancies as yet, and it would be a long time before the
story would become a fact. This was the first entry:
Dream of being a knight-errant in armor in the Middle Ages. Have
the notions and habits, though, of the present day mixed with the
necessities of that. No pockets in the armor. No way to manage
certain requirements of nature. Can't scratch. Cold in the head
and can't blow. Can't get a handkerchief; can't use iron sleeve;
iron gets red-hot in the sun; leaks in the rain; gets white with
frost and freezes me solid in winter; makes disagreeable clatter
when I enter church. Can't dress or undress myself. Always getting
struck by lightning. Fall down and can't get up.
Twenty-one years later, discussing the genesis of the story, he said:
"As I read those quaint and curious old legends I suppose I naturally
contrasted those days with ours, and it made me curious to fancy what
might be the picturesque result if we could dump the nineteenth century
down into the sixth century and observe the consequences."
The reading tour continued during the first two months of the new year
and carried them as far west as Chicago. They read in Hannibal and
Keokuk, and Clemens spent a day in the latter place with his mother, now
living with Orion, brisk and active for her years and with her old-time
force of character. Mark Twain, arranging for her Keokuk residence, had
Ma wants to board with you, and pay her board. She will pay you $20
a month (she wouldn't pay a cent more in heaven; she is obstinate on
this point), and as long as she remains with you and is content I
will add $25 a month to the sum Perkins already sends you.
Jane Clemens attended the Keokuk reading, and later, at home, when her
children asked her if she could still dance, she rose, and at eighty-one
tripped as lightly as a girl. It was the last time that Mark Twain ever
saw his mother in the health and vigor which had been always so much a
part of her personality.
Clemens saw another relative on that trip; in St. Louis, James Lampton,
the original of Colonel Sellers, called.
He was become old and white-headed, but he entered to me in the same old
breezy way of his earlier life, and he was all there, yet--not a detail
wanting: the happy light in his eye, the abounding hope in his heart, the
persuasive tongue, the miracle-breeding imagination--they were all there;
and before I could turn around he was polishing up his Aladdin's lamp and
flashing the secret riches of the world before me. I said to myself:
"I did not overdraw him by a shade, I set him down as he was; and he is
the same man to-day. Cable will recognize him."
Clemens opened the door into Cable's room and allowed the golden dream-
talk to float in. It was of a "small venture" which the caller had
undertaken through his son.
"Only a little thing--a, mere trifle--a bagatelle. I suppose there's a
couple of millions in it, possibly three, but not more, I think; still,
for a boy, you know----"
It was the same old Cousin Jim. Later, when he had royally accepted some
tickets for the reading and bowed his exit, Cable put his head in at the
"That was Colonel Sellers," he said.
HUCK FINN COMES INTO HIS OWN
In the December Century (1884) appeared a chapter from 'The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn', "The Grangerford-Shepherdson Feud," a piece of writing
which Edmund Clarence Stederian, Brander Matthews, and others promptly
ranked as among Mark Twain's very best; when this was followed, in the
January number, by "King Sollermun," a chapter which in its way delighted
quite as many readers, the success of the new book was accounted certain.
--[Stedman, writing to Clemens of this instalment, said: "To my mind it
is not only the most finished and condensed thing you have done. but as
dramatic and powerful an episode as I know in modern literature."]
'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' was officially published in England
and America in December, 1884, but the book was not in the canvassers'
hands for delivery until February. By this time the orders were
approximately for forty thousand copies, a number which had increased to
fifty thousand a few weeks later. Webster's first publication venture
was in the nature of a triumph. Clemens wrote to him March 16th:
"Your news is splendid. Huck certainly is a success."
He felt that he had demonstrated his capacity as a general director and
Webster had proved his efficiency as an executive. He had no further
need of an outside publisher.
The story of Huck Finn will probably stand as the best of Mark Twain's
purely fictional writings. A sequel to Tom Sawyer, it is greater than
its predecessor; greater artistically, though perhaps with less immediate
interest for the juvenile reader. In fact, the books are so different
that they are not to be compared--wherein lies the success of the later
one. Sequels are dangerous things when the story is continuous, but in
Huckleberry Finn the story is a new one, wholly different in environment,
atmosphere, purpose, character, everything. The tale of Huck and Nigger
Jim drifting down the mighty river on a raft, cross-secting the various
primitive aspects of human existence, constitutes one of the most
impressive examples of picaresque fiction in any language. It has been
ranked greater than Gil Blas, greater even than Don Quixote; certainly it
is more convincing, more human, than either of these tales. Robert Louis
Stevenson once wrote, "It is a book I have read four times, and am quite
ready to begin again to-morrow."
It is by no means a flawless book, though its defects are trivial enough.
The illusion of Huck as narrator fails the least bit here and there; the
"four dialects" are not always maintained; the occasional touch of broad
burlesque detracts from the tale's reality. We are inclined to resent
this. We never wish to feel that Huck is anything but a real character.
We want him always the Huck who was willing to go to hell if necessary,
rather than sacrifice Nigger Jim; the Huck who watched the river through
long nights, and, without caring to explain why, felt his soul go out to
Two or three days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum
by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely. Here is the way
we put in the time. It was a monstrous big river down there--
sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights and laid up and hid
daytimes; soon as the night was most gone we stopped navigating and
tied up--nearly always in the dead water under a towhead; and then
cut young cottonwoods and willows and hid the raft with them. Then
we set out the lines. Next we slid into the river and had a swim,
so as to freshen up and cool off; then we set down on the sandy
bottom where the water was about knee deep, and watched the daylight
come. Not a sound anywheres--perfectly still--just like the whole
world was asleep, only sometimes the bullfrogs a-cluttering, maybe.
The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of
dull line--that was the woods on t'other side, you couldn't make
nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness,
spreading around; then the river softened up, away off, and warn't
black anymore, but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting
along, ever so far away--trading scows, and such things; and long
black streaks--rafts; sometimes you could hear a sweep screaking; or
jumbled up voices, it was so still, and sounds come so far; and by-
and-by you could see a streak on the water which you know by the
look of the streak that there's a snag there in a swift current
which breaks on it and makes that streak look that way; and you see
the mist curl up off the water, and the east reddens up, and the
river, and you make out a log-cabin in the edge of the woods, away
on the bank on t'other side of the river, being a wood-yard, likely,
and piled by them cheats so you can throw a dog through it
anywheres; then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning you
over there, so cool and fresh, and sweet to smell, on account of the
woods and the flowers.... And next you've got the full day, and
everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it!
This is the Huck we want, and this is the Huck we usually have, and that
the world has long been thankful for.
Take the story as a whole, it is a succession of startling and unique
pictures. The cabin in the swamp which Huck and his father used together
in their weird, ghastly relationship; the night adventure with Jim on the
wrecked steamboat; Huck's night among the towheads; the Grangerford-
Shepherdson battle; the killing of Boggs--to name a few of the many vivid
presentations--these are of no time or literary fashion and will never
lose their flavor nor their freshness so long as humanity itself does not
change. The terse, unadorned Grangerford-Shepherdson episode--built out
of the Darnell--Watson feuds--[See Life on the Mississippi, chap. xxvi.
Mark Twain himself, as a cub pilot, came near witnessing the battle he
describes.]--is simply classic in its vivid casualness, and the same may
be said of almost every incident on that long river-drift; but this is
the strength, the very essence of picaresque narrative. It is the way
things happen in reality; and the quiet, unexcited frame of mind in which
Huck is prompted to set them down would seem to be the last word in
literary art. To Huck, apparently, the killing of Boggs and Colonel
Sherburn's defiance of the mob are of about the same historical
importance as any other incidents of the day's travel. When Colonel
Sherburn threw his shotgun across his arm and bade the crowd disperse
The crowd washed back sudden, and then broke all apart and went
tearing off every which way, and Buck Harkness he heeled it after
them, looking tolerable cheap. I could a staid if I'd a wanted to,
but I didn't want to.
I went to the circus, and loafed around the back side till the
watchman went by, and then dived in under the tent.
That is all. No reflections, no hysterics; a murder and a mob dispersed,
all without a single moral comment. And when the Shepherdsons had got
done killing the Grangerfords, and Huck had tugged the two bodies ashore
and covered Buck Grangerford's face with a handkerchief, crying a little
because Buck had been good to him, he spent no time in sentimental
reflection or sermonizing, but promptly hunted up Jim and the raft and
sat down to a meal of corn-dodgers, buttermilk, pork and cabbage, and
There ain't nothing in the world so good, when it is cooked right;
and while I eat my supper we talked, and had a good time. I was
powerful glad to get away from the feuds, and so was Jim to get away
from the swamp. We said there warn't no home like a raft, after
all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft
don't; you feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.
It was Huck Finn's morality that caused the book to be excluded from the
Concord Library, and from other libraries here and there at a later day.
The orthodox mental attitude of certain directors of juvenile literature
could not condone Huck's looseness in the matter of statement and
property rights, and in spite of New England traditions, Massachusetts
librarians did not take any too kindly to his uttered principle that,
after thinking it over and taking due thought on the deadly sin of
abolition, he had decided that he'd go to hell rather than give Jim over
to slavery. Poor vagrant Ben Blankenship, hiding his runaway negro in an
Illinois swamp, could not dream that his humanity would one day supply
the moral episode of an immortal book.
Able critics have declared that the psychology of Huck Finn is the book's
large feature: Huck's moral point of view--the struggle between his heart
and his conscience concerning the sin of Jim's concealment, and his final
decision of self-sacrifice. Time may show that as an epic of the river,
the picture of a vanished day, it will rank even greater. The problems
of conscience we have always with us, but periods once passed are gone
forever. Certainly Huck's loyalty to that lovely soul Nigger Jim was
beautiful, though after all it may not have been so hard for Huck, who
could be loyal to anything. Huck was loyal to his father, loyal to Tom
Sawyer of course, loyal even to those two river tramps and frauds, the
King and the Duke, for whom he lied prodigiously, only weakening when a
new and livelier loyalty came into view--loyalty to Mary Wilks.
The King and the Duke, by the way, are not elsewhere matched in fiction.
The Duke was patterned after a journeyman-printer Clemens had known in
Virginia City, but the King was created out of refuse from the whole
human family--"all tears and flapdoodle," the very ultimate of disrepute
and hypocrisy--so perfect a specimen that one must admire, almost love,
him. "Hain't we all the fools in town on our side? and ain't that a big
enough majority in any town?" he asks in a critical moment--a remark
which stamps him as a philosopher of classic rank. We are full of pity
at last when this pair of rapscallions ride out of the history on a rail,
and feel some of Huck's inclusive loyalty and all the sorrowful truth of
his comment: "Human beings can be awful cruel to one another."
The "poor old king" Huck calls him, and confesses how he felt "ornery and
humble and to blame, somehow," for the old scamp's misfortunes. "A
person's conscience ain't got no sense," he says, and Huck is never more
real to us, or more lovable, than in that moment. Huck is what he is
because, being made so, he cannot well be otherwise. He is a boy
throughout--such a boy as Mark Twain had known and in some degree had
been. One may pettily pick a flaw here and there in the tale's
construction if so minded, but the moral character of Huck himself is not
open to criticism. And indeed any criticism of this the greatest of Mark
Twain's tales of modern life would be as the mere scratching of the
granite of an imperishable structure. Huck Finn is a monument that no
puny pecking will destroy. It is built of indestructible blocks of human
nature; and if the blocks do not always fit, and the ornaments do not
always agree, we need not fear. Time will blur the incongruities and
moss over the mistakes. The edifice will grow more beautiful with the
THE MEMOIRS OF GENERAL GRANT
The success of Huck Finn, though sufficiently important in itself,
prepared the way for a publishing venture by the side of which it
dwindled to small proportions. One night (it was early in November,
1884), when Cable and Clemens had finished a reading at Chickering Hall,
Clemens, coming out into the wet blackness, happened to hear Richard
Watson Gilder's voice say to some unseen companion:
"Do you know General Grant has actually determined to write his memoirs
and publish them. He has said so to-day, in so many words."
Of course Clemens was immediately interested. It was the thing he had
proposed to Grant some three years previously, during his call that day
with Howells concerning the Toronto consulship.
With Mrs. Clemens, he promptly overtook Gilder and accompanied him to his
house, where they discussed the matter in its various particulars.
Gilder said that the Century Editors had endeavored to get Grant to
contribute to their war series, but that not until his financial
disaster, as a member of the firm of Grant & Ward, had he been willing to
consider the matter. He said that Grant now welcomed the idea of
contributing three papers to the series, and that the promised payment of
five hundred dollars each for these articles had gladdened his heart and
relieved him of immediate anxiety.--[Somewhat later the Century Company,
voluntarily, added liberally to this sum.]
Gilder added that General Grant seemed now determined to continue his
work until he had completed a book, though this at present was only a
Clemens was in the habit of calling on Grant, now and then, to smoke a
cigar with him, and he dropped in next morning to find out just how far
the book idea had developed, and what were the plans of publication. He
found the General and his son, Colonel Fred Grant, discussing some
memoranda, which turned out to be a proposition from the Century Company
for the book publication of his memoirs. Clemens asked to be allowed to
look over the proposed terms, and when he had done so he said:
"General, it is clear that the Century people do not realize the
importance--the commercial magnitude of your book. It is not strange
that this is true, for they are comparatively new publishers and have had
little or no experience with books of this class. The terms they propose
indicate that they expect to sell five, possibly ten thousand copies. A
book from your hand, telling the story of your life and battles, should
sell not less than a quarter of a million, perhaps twice that sum. It
should be sold only by subscription, and you are entitled to double the
royalty here proposed. I do not believe it is to your interest to
conclude this contract without careful thought and investigation. Write
to the American Publishing Company at Hartford and see what they will do
But Grant demurred. He said that, while no arrangements had been made
with the Century Company, he thought it only fair and right that they
should have the book on reasonable terms; certainly on terms no greater
than he could obtain elsewhere. He said that, all things being equal,
the book ought to go to the man who had first suggested it to him.
Clemens spoke up: "General, if that is so, it belongs to me."
Grant did not understand until Clemens recalled to him how he had urged
him, in that former time, to write his memoirs; had pleaded with him,
agreeing to superintend the book's publication. Then he said:
"General, I am publishing my own book, and by the time yours is ready it
is quite possible that I shall have the best equipped subscription
establishment in the country. If you will place your book with my firm--
and I feel that I have at least an equal right in the consideration--I
will pay you twenty per cent. of the list price, or, if you prefer, I
will give you seventy per cent. of the net returns and I will pay all
office expenses out of my thirty per cent."
General Grant was really grieved at this proposal. It seemed to him
that here was a man who was offering to bankrupt himself out of pure
philanthropy--a thing not to be permitted. He intimated that he had
asked the Century Company president, Roswell Smith, a careful-headed
business man, if he thought his book would pay as well as Sherman's,
which the Scribners had published at a profit to Sherman of twenty-five
thousand dollars, and that Smith had been unwilling to guarantee that
amount to the author.--[Mark Twain's note-book, under date of March,
1885, contains this memorandum: "Roswell Smith said to me: 'I'm glad you
got the book, Mr. Clemens; glad there was somebody with courage enough to
take it, under the circumstances. What do you think the General wanted
to require of me?'
"'He wanted me to insure a sale of twenty-five thousand sets of his book.
I wouldn't risk such a guarantee on any book that was ever published.'"
Yet Roswell Smith, not so many years later, had so far enlarged his views
of subscription publishing that he fearlessly and successfully invested a
million dollars or more in a dictionary, regardless of the fact that the
market was already thought to be supplied.]
"General, I have my check-book with me. I will draw you a check now for
twenty-five thousand dollars for the first volume of your memoirs, and
will add a like amount for each volume you may write as an advance
royalty payment, and your royalties will continue right along when this
amount has been reached."
Colonel Fred Grant now joined in urging that matters be delayed, at least
until more careful inquiry concerning the possibilities of publishing
could be made.
Clemens left then, and set out on his trip with Cable, turning the whole
matter over to Webster and Colonel Fred for settlement. Meantime, the
word that General Grant was writing his memoirs got into the newspapers
and various publishing propositions came to him. In the end the General
sent over to Philadelphia for his old friend, George W. Childs, and laid
the whole matter before him. Childs said later it was plain that General
Grant, on the score of friendship, if for no other reason, distinctly
wished to give the book to Mark Twain. It seemed not to be a question of
how much money he would make, but of personal feeling entirely.
Webster's complete success with Huck Finn being now demonstrated, Colonel
Fred Grant agreed that he believed Clemens and Webster could handle the
book as profitably as anybody; and after investigation Childs was of the
same opinion. The decision was that the firm of Charles L. Webster & Co.
should have the book, and arrangements for drawing the contract were
General Grant, however, was still somewhat uneasy as to the terms.
He thought he was taking an unfair advantage in receiving so large a
proportion of the profits. He wrote to Clemens, asking him which of his
two propositions--the twenty per cent. gross-royalty or the seventy per
cent. of the net profit--would be the best all around. Clemens sent
Webster to tell him that he believed the simplest, as well as the most
profitable for the author, would be the twenty per cent. arrangement.
Whereupon Grant replied that he would take the alternative; as in that
case, if the book were a failure, and there were no profits, Clemens
would not be obliged to pay him anything. He could not consent to the
thought of receiving twenty per cent. on a book published at a loss.
Meantime, Grant had developed a serious illness. The humiliation of his
business failure had undermined his health. The papers announced his
malady as cancer of the tongue. In a memorandum which Clemens made,
February 26, 1885, he states that on the 21st he called at the Grant
home, 3 East 66th Street, and was astonished to see how thin and weak the
General looked. He was astonished because the newspaper, in a second
report, had said the threatening symptoms had disappeared, that the
cancer alarm was a false one.
I took for granted the report, and said I had been glad to see that
news. He smiled and said, "Yes--if it had only been true."
One of the physicians was present, and he startled me by saying the
General's condition was the opposite of encouraging.
Then the talk drifted to business, and the General presently said:
"I mean you shall have the book--I have about made up my mind to
that--but I wish to write to Mr. Roswell Smith first, and tell him I
have so decided. I think this is due him."
From the beginning the General has shown a fine delicacy toward
those people--a delicacy which was native to the character of the
man who put into the Appomattox terms of surrender the words,
"Officers may retain their side-arms," to save General Lee the
humiliation of giving up his sword. [Note-book.]
The physician present was Dr. Douglas, and upon Clemens assuming that the
General's trouble was probably due to smoking, also that it was a warning
to those who smoked to excess, himself included, Dr. Douglas said that
General Grant's affliction could not be attributed altogether to smoking,
but far more to his distress of mind, his year-long depression of spirit,
the grief of his financial disaster. Dr. Douglas's remark started
General Grant upon the subject of his connection with Ward, which he
discussed with great freedom and apparent relief of mind. Never at any
time did he betray any resentment toward Ward, but characterized him as
one might an offending child. He spoke as a man who has been deeply
wronged and humiliated and betrayed, but without a venomous expression or
one with revengeful nature. Clemens confessed in his notes that all the
time he himself was "inwardly boiling--scalping Ward--flaying him alive--
breaking him on the wheel--pounding him to a jelly."
While he was talking Colonel Grant said:
"Father is letting you see that the Grant family are a pack of fools, Mr.
The General objected to this statement. He said that the facts could be
produced which would show that when Ward laid siege to a man he was
pretty certain to turn out to be a fool; as much of a fool as any of the
Grant family. He said that nobody could call the president of the Erie
Railroad a fool, yet Ward had beguiled him of eight hundred thousand
dollars, robbed him of every cent of it.
He cited another man that no one could call a fool who had invested in
Ward to the extent of half a million. He went on to recall many such
cases. He told of one man who had come to the office on the eve of
departure for Europe and handed Ward a check for fifty thousand dollars,
"I have no use for it at present. See what you can do with it for me."
By and by this investor, returning from Europe, dropped in and said: